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Raising awareness about sexual assaults; changing lives

Trelles Delandro said she has been terrified of being raped since she was 10 years old.

The 14-year-old New Orleans native is accustomed to unwanted attention from men as she walks down the street and is surprised that her young age does not faze them.

Black and white images of her appeared on the projector as she discussed the rape of her cousin at the hands of a home intruder, an incident that instilled fear in her.

“Ever since then I’ve really been afraid. I’m always thinking, ‘is someone going to try and harm me? Is someone going to follow me? Is someone going to say something?’” she said.

“If it does happen how, am I going to deal with it? What am I going to do?”

Delandro was one of five females Maggie Hadleigh-West interviewed in her documentary, “War Zone,” which deals with street harassment and sexual assault.

The documentary was showcased on April 20 at an event by Women and Work, a program sponsored by Queens College commemorating Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The film followed a discussion by the program’s founder and executive director, Carmella Marrone.

“Every two minutes, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted,” Marrone said.

Reading materials were handed out to attendees detailing statistics and further information about sexual assault and rape. Nearly 20 percent of women have been a victim of rape, according to the pamphlet. On college campuses, the situation is painted to be just as bleak with one out of four women being victims of sexual assault, of which 81 percent are on campus and 84 percent off.

Included in the material passed around was a pamphlet called “A Handbook for Survival.” The pages covered all aspects of sexual assault survival, from what constitutes assault and how to face it. The last page provided 24-hour hotlines and names of rape crisis centers and programs.

Marrone, who has served as a rape crisis counselor at Elmhurst Hospital for a number of years, knows firsthand the effects assault can have on a person.

“Our responsibility is to young boys and young girls,” Marrone said. “We need to teach young men that it’s not OK and teach young women that they don’t have to accept it.”

Marrone began the Women and Work program in 1998. What started as a six-week course has now branched into a large program with its main headquarters in midtown Manhattan. It is a job and life skills training program that has helped 1,800 single mothers and battered, homeless, immigrant and older women overcome being victims of rape in its 14-year history, according to Marrone.

However, the road was not always easy for Marrone. Following a rough cancer diagnosis with numerous operations and the end of her nearly 20-year marriage, she decided to spend her time in the woods, devoted to herself, in a cabin in Georgia.

“I decided that I wanted to bring myself back,” Marrone said of her yearlong self-reflection. “I wanted to live.”

Marrone resolved to complete her education – getting her bachelor’s degree in women’s studies and sociology at QC, and then her master’s degree in applied social research before launching her program.

The program prides itself on opening its arms to women from various cultures, races, religions and sexual orientations. It welcomes women from 19-23 varying countries.

“We have to be able to understand and respect those cultures,” Marrone said. “It gives us a level of authority because every one of those women can speak from their cultural experience.”

Marrone is working on sustainability projects for Women and Work. On May 18, she plans on announcing a permanent replacement for her White Ribbon Campaign, which aimed to raise awareness on domestic violence by asking people to sign petitions and make pledges.

The new project will address all forms of violence and reach across the gender binary, as Marrone believes violence affects both men and women.

“We are all foot soldiers in a war,” Marrone said. “Every person is a voice for change.”

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